Wednesday, March 2, 2011


In March 1956 the NPS announced funding for a building program at Dinosaur, $275,000 of which would be for the new Quarry Visitor Center, which would enclose the Carnegie Quarry. After decades of effort, false starts, frustration, and temporary solutions, the long envisioned museum with an in-situ exhibit of dinosaur bones, was to finally be built! There are many interesting aspects to the building. Some of these I’ll address in future posts. For now, let’s look at some general features of the QVC circa 1958 and photos of its construction.

The framework of the east wall of the glass enclosed part of the QVC, 1957.

Building the gull-winged roof, 1957.

There were three components to the QVC; the glass enclosed area surrounding and covering the dinosaur bones, the single floor administrative wing that housed the library, offices, and the windowed paleontology lab, and the two story rotunda that brought visitors into the building at the level of the second floor viewing mezzanine and contained offices, restrooms, and an information desk

Children playing in the construction area in 1958.  Safety concerns were apparently a little less rigorous in those days.

The design of the building was clearly a radical break from traditional NPS Visitor Centers. The gull wing roof mimicked the terrain of the area as well as the excavated quarry sandstone layer. The walls of the main area were constructed mainly of glass which allowed for large amounts of ambient light to illuminate the dinosaur bearing rock layer. It was, as the NPS proclaimed, a visitor center “distinctly different from those in other national park areas.” (1, p. 54)

Looking over the floor of the future paleontology lab (foreground) and rotunda (background), 1957.

 The foundation of the rotunda (foreground) and paleontology lab (background), 1957.
The two story rotunda seen from the south, 1958

The skeleton of the famous curving ramp, one of the most striking features of the building, 1957.

The construction contract was awarded in April 1957 to the R.K. McCullough Construction Company of Salt Lake City. Work began in May 1957 and completed on May 9, 1958. The official dedication of the QVC was held June 1 1958. Dr. LeRoy “Pop” Kay from the Carnegie attended and spoke about the dinosaur quarry where he had worked for so many years. Roger C. Ernst, Assistant Secretary of the Interior, delivered the dedicatory address. Some 1600 people attended the ceremonies and after the ribbon cutting tour of the building were given.

Opening day for the QVC, 1958.

The completed QVC seen from the air in 1958. Visitors could finally drive all the way to the quarry, rather than hiking the last several hundred yards over a rough dirt trail.

Notes on Sources
Allabach (2000) contains the best and most detailed account in print of the design and building 1958 Quarry Visitor Center and I have drawn on it for this post. Its references and footnotes will lead the reader to many original sources. It is freely available on-line at:

(1) Allabach, S. 2000. Chapter 1. Quarry Visitor Center, Dinosaur National Monument, Jensen, Utah. in: Mission 66 Visitor Centers: The History of a Building Type. United States Department of the Interior, National Park Service, Cultural Resource Stewardship and Partnerships, Park Historic Structures and Cultural Landscapes Program, Washington, D.C.: pp. 39-66.

Photos: Uintah County Library


  1. I remember being wowed as a kid seeing the Visitor Center for the first time. The drive up and the perspective looking at the rotunda were fascinating and had a "space age" vibe that strangely went really well with the tilted ancient bone bed.

    It just dawned on me that as a volunteer preparator at UMNH, I'm doing some of the cool work I envied as I watched workers chipping away at the quarry face.

    Was the parking area built on quarry tailings? Looks like a lot of fill in that last photo.

  2. The parking lots at both the east and west end are composed on a thick accumulation of tailings, especially so at the east end One can see that quite clearly when hiking the Fossil Discovery Trail in the drainage immediately east of the QVC. Brown (1937 Dinosaurs on Parade -- see my earlier post on Brown) has photos from the WPA days that show the thick fill that eventually became the east parking lot.